Post-pandemic staff shortages threaten aviation recovery – POLITICO

After two years of lockdowns, quarantines, testing and restrictions, the airline industry should brace for a record summer.

There’s just one problem: airports and planes are under-employed and it’s proving very difficult to boost hiring quickly.

The result can be seen at airports across the continent.

Last weekend, Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam asked airlines to cancel flights or divert them to other airports due to a lack of staff. Passengers had to queue for hours and the hub, one of the largest in Europe, is now offering guidance that sounds like something out of a hiking guide: wear comfortable clothes and shoes, take a bottle of water with you, take a spare jacket with you in case it gets cold.

Schiphol might even limit flight volume this summer, warned Managing Director Dick Benschop.

It’s not the only hub to feel the pressure. Brussels airport has more than 1,000 vacancies, while London Heathrow tried to hire 12,000 new staff last month Manchester and Dublin have also experienced chaotic scenes in recent weeks.

That’s because there has been a “strong and sudden rebound” in passenger traffic, according to executives at airport association ACI Europe and ground-handling group Airport Services Association said on Friday.

Although overall passenger numbers are still below 2019 levels, according to Olivier Jankovec, General Director of ACI Europe, and Fabio Gamba, Managing Director of ASA, “traffic has become much more concentrated during peak times”. Some major airports are already at or above pre-pandemic traffic levels.

A survey by ACI Europe found that two-thirds of European airports expect flight delays to increase in the summer.

Airports and groundhandlers say they have emerged from the pandemic with “exhausted resources” after laying off thousands of staff due to the collapse in air travel. They’re trying to hire staff, but find themselves competing with a revitalized leisure and hospitality industry in a tight job market. Payment is also an issue.

“The fact that security and ground-handling jobs have been at the lower end of the pay scale for many years, and also include seven-day-a-week shift work, is a clear handicap for attracting people in the current inflationary environment,” Jankovec and Gamba said.

Airlines are also trying to increase their workforces.

“The recovery is happening faster than we expected,” said Jennifer Janzen, spokeswoman for industry lobby Airlines for Europe. “We also see the consequences of the new, stricter regulation for background checks on staff. While a welcome measure, the pace at which Member States’ home ministries are conducting these controls is far too slow.”

Aviation lobbies want governments to speed up the process ahead of the summer travel crisis.

Airport and ground-handling lobbies are also pointing the finger at Brussels, blaming the EU Ground-Handling Directive for liberalizing baggage handling and complaining that the sector has received less pandemic aid than airlines.

“If low wages and compromised service quality were already a problem before the pandemic, they are now coming to the fore – with implications for the aviation system,” the two lobbies argued. They also want the policy to be revised.

Unions are blaming employers who they say have used the crisis to cut wages and jobs. The industry “reaps very well what it sows,” said Oliver Richardson, President of Civil Aviation at the European Transport Workers’ Federation.

“Low wages, combined with poor conditions and anti-social work patterns, have made the industry unattractive and caused an industry-wide recruitment crisis,” he said.

That likely means travelers lace up those comfortable shoes and fill up their water bottles before heading to the airport.

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